THE BLOG
11/22/2016 12:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Legend of the Starbucks Siren

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By Heather Taylor

She has flowing hair and wears a crown like adornment atop her head. Her face is serene and her all-knowing grin is akin to the Mona Lisa — if Da Vinci’s masterpiece was ever a secret coffee enthusiast, that is. Since 1971, the ubiquitous image of the Starbucks Siren has been a constant companion to coffee cups from the chain. Whether tall, grande, or venti, if you’re spotted carrying a cuppa joe with a green siren printed on the cup’s packaging it is universally known that you just went to Starbucks.

Much like the Mona Lisa, the Starbucks Siren is iconic and also a modern-day mystery to us mere mortals. Dive on in to the depths as we reveal a glimpse into the world of this elusive 45-year-old brand mascot — and why she should never be confused with a mermaid.

Hailing from Greek mythology to become the face of a brand.

As the Starbucks Company Profile states, twin-tailed sirens from Greek mythology inspired the brand logo. Perfectly fitting since the name “Starbucks” was taken from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, named after the first mate.

Steve Murray, Creative Director at Starbucks, says that the founders stumbled upon a picture of a woodcut of a siren while looking through old seafaring textbooks. In that moment, everything clicked. “[The siren] is from the sea and coffee comes from across the ocean. Seattle is a kind of seafaring town and it seemed to fit together well, adding a mythical feel to it too.”

Lest the Starbucks siren ever be confused with a mermaid, keep in mind the number of tails she has. Sirens are known for having twin tails while mermaids only have one.

And while Murray assures us that the Siren is not inspired by anyone living, the team at Starbucks does consider her to be real in her own respect. “She’s the biggest symbol, and face, of our brand.”

A Siren evolves through the decades.

In 1971, the original Siren logo illustration truly embodied her folkloric roots. A twin tail in each hand, the Siren was drawn in brown and white with visible cleavage, a stomach with a naval, and only the faintest hint of a smile on her face.

While sailors have been known to fall victim to a siren’s song, this one was stylized over time to keep from being viewed negatively by consumers as the coffee brand began to take off in popularity. In 1987, her long flowing hair was moved to the front of her chest and the brown and white colors were discarded for modern greens, blacks, and whites. 1992 saw the disappearance of her stomach and naval completely, with the tails barely noticeable in her hand as her face was zoomed in on.

In her most recent 2011 reincarnation, the Siren is completely green and white with wavy hair and twin tails peeking out on either side of her. The name of the coffee brand has been removed from the logo too. In a blog post on 1912 Pike, the Starbucks Coffee Blog, the most recent Siren revamp meant cleaning up the icon a bit with styled hair and light face work.

“I’d say she’s gotten a little more modest,” Murray says on the Siren’s transformation, “But mostly the same if you look at her face across all those times. It has stayed pretty consistent.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, echoes Murray’s sentiments when the logo was updated in 2011, “The new interpretation of the logo, at its core, is the exact same essence of the Starbucks experience… What I think we’ve done is that we have allowed her to come out of the circle in a way that I think gives us the freedom and flexibility to think beyond coffee.”

Breathing life into the Siren in 2016 and beyond.

Since her last major design revamp in 2011, the Siren has also been spotted journeying beyond coffee cups to gift cards in special edition Starbucks Cards.

Created by Dana Deininger, Senior Designer at Starbucks, the original illustration depicted the Siren in a pencil sketch. In one hand, she clutched a coffee tree branch and in the other, a coffee cup hovered above her hand. Deininger’s drawing captured the Siren lost in her own world and the image transitioned to the cards. Brushstokes of metallic blues and greens in the sea surrounded her and a layer of shimmering gold foil was added to accentuate her tree branch and twin tails.

Where does she go from here? While it’s highly likely that within the next 45 years this nautical icon will make another splash with a few more redesigns (and maybe even her own commercial spot!), she will undoubtedly remain true to the consistency of the Starbucks mission and story. As Murray says, “I hope that when people see the Siren on their cup, it stands for what they’re gonna get from Starbucks. If the Siren is on that cup, it’s gonna be awesome.”

Image credit: iStockPhoto, Starbucks